NASA's Mars-Bound Phoenix Adjusts Course Successfully

August 11, 2007
Artist concept of Phoenix in space
Artist concept of Phoenix in space. Image credit: NASA/JPL.

NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander today accomplished the first and largest of six course corrections planned during the spacecraft's flight from Earth to Mars.

Phoenix left Earth Aug. 4, bound for a challenging touchdown on May 25, 2008, at a site farther north than any previous Mars landing. It will robotically dig to underground ice and run laboratory tests assessing whether the site could ever have been hospitable to microbial life.

Phoenix today is traveling at about 33,180 meters per second (74,200 miles per hour) in relation to the sun. The first trajectory-correction maneuver was calculated to tweak the velocity by about 18.5 meters per second (41 miles per hour). The spacecraft fired its four mid-size thrusters for three minutes and 17 seconds to adjust its trajectory.

"All the subsystems are functioning as expected with few deviations from predicted performance," said Joe Guinn, Phoenix mission system manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Key activities in the next few weeks will include checkouts of science instruments, radar and the communication system that will be used during and after the landing.

The second trajectory-correction maneuver is planned for mid-October. "These first two together take out the bias intentionally put in at launch," said JPL's Brian Portock, Phoenix navigation team chief. Without the correction maneuvers, the spacecraft's course after launch day would miss Mars by about 950,000 kilometers (590,000 miles), an intentional offset to prevent the third stage of the launch vehicle from hitting Mars. The launch vehicle is not subject to the rigorous cleanliness requirements that the spacecraft must meet as a protection against letting Earth organisms get a foothold on Mars.

The burn began at 11:30 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Each of the four trajectory-correction thrusters provides about 15.6 newtons (3.5 pounds) of force. Smaller, attitude-control thrusters pivoted the spacecraft to the desired orientation a few minutes before the main burn and returned it afterward to the right orientation for catching solar energy while communicating with Earth. Their thrust capacity is about 4.4 newtons (1 pound) apiece. The twelve largest thrusters on Phoenix, delivering about 293 newtons (66 pounds) apiece, will operate only during the final minute before landing on Mars.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Scientists simulate effects of blowing Mars dust

Related Stories

Scientists simulate effects of blowing Mars dust

June 15, 2007

Gusting winds and the pulsating exhaust plumes from the Phoenix spacecraft's landing engines could complicate NASA's efforts to sample frozen soil from the surface of Mars, according to University of Michigan atmospheric ...

Intense Testing Paved Phoenix Road to Mars

May 12, 2008

When NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander descends to the surface of the Red Planet on May 25, few will be watching as closely as the men and women who have spent years planning, analyzing and conducting tests to prepare for the dramatic ...

Phoenix Robotic Arm Camera Sees Possible Ice

June 1, 2008

A view of the ground underneath NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander adds to evidence that descent thrusters dispersed overlying soil and exposed a harder substrate that may be ice.

Recommended for you

The initial mass function

December 11, 2017

The gas and dust in giant molecular clouds gradually come together under the influence of gravity to form stars. Precisely how this occurs, however, is incompletely understood. The mass of a star, for example, is by far the ...

JPL deploys a CubeSat for astronomy

December 8, 2017

Tiny satellites called CubeSats have attracted a lot of attention in recent years. Besides allowing researchers to test new technologies, their relative simplicity also offers hands-on training to early-career engineers.

Galaxy orbits in the local supercluster

December 8, 2017

A team of astronomers from Maryland, Hawaii, Israel, and France has produced the most detailed map ever of the orbits of galaxies in our extended local neighborhood, showing the past motions of almost 1400 galaxies within ...

Black holes' magnetism surprisingly wimpy

December 7, 2017

Black holes are famous for their muscle: an intense gravitational pull known to gobble up entire stars and launch streams of matter into space at almost the speed of light.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.